In the 21st century, we have advanced consumer technologies that let us to communicate instantly with people around the world. And yet, we are still required to appear in person or mail in our ballots to vote in the election. That may seem backwards, but one of the primary reasons is the inherent security risks involved with any sort of Internet-driven voting. (Online voter registration‘s another thing, and even that’s taking forever in some states.)
So it’s extremely noteworthy when a state allows voting in the presidential election via email. Previously, New Jersey only allowed electronic ballot submission for military and overseas voters. But state officials felt they had no choice after Hurricane Sandy destroyed homes, downed power grids and flooded so many of its residents. Not finding some sort of solution would’ve been like denying this large group of people the right to cast their ballot in this presidential election. And so the decision was made this weekend to open up the system to allow displaced New Jersey residents to vote by email or fax.
The move brings up a number of concerns: First, how do people maintain anonymity when they’re emailing the vote in to their county clerk’s office? Second, the threat of hacking is enormous. There are many types of online communications, but email is one of the least secure. This is what has security experts horrified at this turn of events — and indeed, anyone who’s ever had their account hacked can attest to the vulnerabilities of email — and yet, this could be the primary way for many, many Jersey voters. Third, even if no widespread hacking gets reported, this approach may automatically cast doubt on the validity of election results, no matter who wins.
There’s also an extra layer of complication, thanks to some confusion about process. Originally, New Jersey state law mandated that electronic votes needed to be substantiated with a hard copy paper version sent in to the county board of elections. Thing is, this wasn’t outlined clearly in the new emergency measure. You can guess what that opens the door for — an epic load of people whose votes could potentially get thrown out.
It seems all eyes are fixed on the state once again. The disaster zone we’ve been empathizing with has just become something else entirely — an epic experiment with enormous risks and far-reaching ramifications for our nation’s electoral process.